ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The ruins of St. Andrews’s once-majestic cathedral are a reminder that this gray town by the ocean was a pilgrimage site long before golf got here along.
But there is no such thing as a doubt about what attracts crowds now, and it has been seven years for the reason that golf pilgrims gathered here for a British Open of their weatherproof gear and souvenir caps.
Seven years is an unusually long gap, however the R&A, which runs the tournament, decided to delay returning the British Open to St. Andrews to make sure that it could host the one hundred and fiftieth edition of what is thought on this side of the pond because the Open Championship.
Originally scheduled for 2021, the St. Andrews celebration got pushed back a 12 months due to the pandemic-induced cancellation in 2020, and now the organizers may need to ponder whether it was well worth the wait.
As an alternative of a possibility to experience the history and hopefully windswept charms of the Old Course, the main focus has remained on the elephant within the locker room: LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed, economics-be-damned breakaway circuit that has poached PGA Tour talent like the previous British Open champions Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen, and is led by one other former Open champion, Greg Norman, who for his sins and pains was not invited to this 12 months’s dinner of champions at St. Andrews.
Tiger Woods’s news conference on Tuesday was dominated by the topic (Woods held firm to his position against the defectors, inspiring British tabloid headlines like “LIV and Let Die”).
On Wednesday, Martin Slumbers, the gray-haired chief executive of the R&A, tried unsuccessfully to handle the subject “briefly” by making a gap statement at his news conference that made it clear that the R&A wouldn’t bar golfers from the rebel tour but could change its qualifying requirements to make it harder for them to play in future British Opens.
Bring on the follow-up questions! “Do you think that golf ought to be welcoming money from Saudi Arabia given after we learn about sportswashing?”
Evasive answer from Slumbers: “I feel that’s a too simplistic way of taking a look at it.”
The difficulty will not be blowing away anytime soon within the Scottish breeze and will quickly resume being the dominant plotline if a LIV golfer, like Dustin Johnson or Oosthuizen, rises to the highest of the 2 yellow scoreboards above the 18th green which can be still operated by hand on this otherwise digital age by students from rival private schools.
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
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A latest series. The launch of latest Saudi-financed LIV Golf series has resurfaced longstanding questions on athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money. Here’s what to know:
What’s LIV Golf? The series is an upstart skilled golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the best level of professional golf for nearly a century.
Who’s playing it? The 48 players within the initial LIV Golf event weren’t exactly a who’s who of golf, and lots of of the most important names in the game, reminiscent of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away. But there have been big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García.
What’s attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The primary tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That’s on top of the looks fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.
“Whoever wins on Sunday goes to have their name carved in history,” Slumbers said. “And I’ll welcome them onto the 18th green.”
Later within the day, Slumbers stood on the balcony of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse overlooking essentially the most celebrated expanse of open land in golf, including that 18th green and the primary tee and the putting green where Woods was honing his stroke from short and long range amid intermittent showers.
The Scottish have a tolerance for rain higher than most, and most of the fans and officials pointing their cellphone cameras at Woods held their ground despite the drizzle.
But rain has been rare in these parts of late, which could help the Old Course defend itself against the large hitters. The fairways are particularly firm, which suggests potential trouble off the tee as drives can bounce into the rough or beyond.
The players, for now, sound more delighted than daunted. As advances in equipment have threatened the Old Course’s relevance in recent a long time, the celebrities clearly have mixed feelings about tearing it to shreds.
“I don’t think it gets any higher than winning at St. Andrews,” said Jon Rahm of Spain, who’s chasing his first Open victory. “No offense to every other tournament on the planet. It’s the oldest championship on the oldest course and where it began, especially whenever you get into the setup we now have this week: nice and firm and rolling and tricked out as it might probably be.”
St. Andrews is widely considered the house of golf since the game was played here as early because the fifteenth century and later set the trend that made an 18-hole layout the usual. But for all its pedigree, it will not be the house of the Open Championships, which began at Prestwick on Scotland’s west coast in 1860 and stayed there until coming to St. Andrews for the primary time in 1873.
The Open eventually outgrew Prestwick, which last hosted the tournament in 1925, but though the Open rotates amongst a gaggle of Scottish and English courses, St. Andrews, despite its modern-day challenges, has hosted it greater than every other.
The champions here through the years include Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus, Severiano Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, John Daly and Woods in 2000 and 2005 when he was at his prelapsarian peak.
“When you’re going to be a player that’s going to be remembered you will need to win at St. Andrews,” Jack Nicklaus said, in his last appearance in 2005.
That could be a seductive thought, but not quite fair to memorable talents like Walter Hagen, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Mickelson, none of whom won at St. Andrews.
However the place has cachet, and the streets of the traditional town are filled once more with visitors, and for the primary time, there may be also a brief campsite on a neighborhood rugby field stuffed with rows of tents and a whole lot of volunteers and fans who couldn’t afford the jacked-up rates at local hotels.
There are two categories within the tent city: camping and glamping. To advertise golf to the young, campers under 24 are allowed to camp without spending a dime.
“All of it looks like glamping to me,” said Michael O’Farrell, 23, from Galway, Ireland. “They even provide the air mattress.”
Open tickets are sold out, and that features the official practice days, which began on Monday when the course was closed to most of the people after loads of mingling with the players within the preceding days.
“It just exceeds all expectations, and that even goes to Saturday when the locals are in a position to walk down the fairways with us,” said Will Zalatoris, an American playing in his first British Open.
“You’ve got Augusta National,” he said of the positioning of the Masters Tournament. “Which is clearly one in every of the premier, most private places in really the world. And then you definately come here, and I’m walking down fairways with 60 people and their dogs. I feel that’s what makes golf so fun. Obviously, this week is far more form of the people’s tournament.”
Zalatoris, 25, paid a visit to the Dunvegan Hotel, the classic St. Andrews watering hole a brief walk from the 18th hole that has modified ownership since 2015 but remains to be a magnet for fans (the toasts were plentiful and the face masks scarce at its packed bar on Wednesday).
“The Open means all the pieces to this community, even if you happen to’re circuitously involved,” said Tom Willoughby, 72, the previous co-owner of the Dunvegan who was still holding court in front of the chalkboard where he and his wife Sheena have long written a each day message, often in rhyme.
The newest: “It’s Windy Wednesday, Oh, What Fun. The Tournament not yet begun. Come Thursday Morning Standing Tall. Teeing it up, no other but Paul.”
That will be Paul Lawrie, who stands because the last Scotsman to win the Open, winning back in 1999 at Carnoustie, just up the coast from St. Andrews. Lawrie was scheduled to hit the opening tee shot at 6:35 a.m. local time on Thursday.
Bring on the Old Course. Bring on the occasion.
“I’m never great on the primary tee,” Lawrie said. “Irrespective of what tournament I’m playing in, I’m all the time a wee bit nervous. But obviously it’ll be a bit bit more since it’s the Open, and it’s the one hundred and fiftieth. Luckily, it’s a pleasant, big, wide fairway down there.”